The digital age has allowed Terrence Malick to shoot an absurd amount of footage for his films, and while the mind may boggle at the 8-hour first cut of “Song To Song,” it’s hardly the first time he’s gone long. In the run up to “The Tree Of Life,” cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki revealed that the director was putting a together a six-hour cut of the movie, from the over 300 miles of footage he had accumulated, with Malick’s longtime editor Billy Weber later teasing a DVD release. That version of “The Tree Of Life” has yet to surface, however, an alternate ending to the movie does exist.
Texas Monthly has a fascinating profile on the press shy filmmaker, and the publication describes his editing process, and reveals a conclusion to “The Tree Of Life” that’s closely autobiographical, including a scene at the Episcopal school Malick attended. Here’s how it’s described:
Malick takes years to finish his films, hiring teams of editors to put together different cuts, and finding and discarding entire story lines during the post-production process. In the final cut ofThe Tree of Life, Malick resolves the drama at the center of the film by having his young protagonist’s family move away from his boyhood home. There’s a bittersweet sense of a chapter closing and an uncertain future lying ahead. But in an earlier, unreleased version of the film, the story of the protagonist, Jack, ends not with his family’s departure from Waco but on a more triumphant note: he arrives as a boarding student at St. Stephen’s. It doesn’t take a deep familiarity with Malick’s life story to see the parallels between the family in the film and Malick’s own. Jack bridles under the discipline of his stern, accomplished, and ultimately loving father. He worships his angelic mother. He and his two younger brothers turn to each other for support. The film is framed around the premature death of the middle brother. (Malick’s brother Larry took his own life as a young man.)
In the unused ending, Jack leaves behind his tumultuous relationship with his father and finds a new kind of family. We see him walk past St. Stephen’s limestone chapel, the highest point on campus, those “green, undulating hills” standing in the background. “Jack is just enraptured,” said [Malick friend Joe] Conway, who has seen the cut. “He’s having this intellectual and spiritual awakening. If you take Jack as in any way reflecting Terry, well, St. Stephen’s is where he found a community that he embraced and that embraced him.”
Who knows if this ending, or Malick’s long rumored director’s cut of “The Tree Of Life” will ever publicly surface. But then again, who would’ve thought Malick would’ve done a Facebook streamed Q&A at SXSW?